A friend of mine was looking for advice on how to backup their data and so here’s my quick version of things to do to protect your increasingly valuable digital archive:
- Local Backup. Buy an external USB hard-drive to backup your data and then use your operating systems built-in backup software to backup. External drives – even conveniently small ones – have been getting more and more affordable for a long time. You’ll need a drive that is bigger than your laptop/desktops hard drive (or at least the capacity you use on this drive) to make it effective. Ideally aim for something that is 2-3x times larger. Both Windows (Windows 7 and Windows Vista) and modern variants of the Mac OS (look for “Time Machine”) have built in software to manage this backup process for you. If you’re using an older version of Windows or Mac OS then you’re probably best to buy software to manage this for you. I don’t know about the Mac OS but for Windows a good choice is Acronis software.
- Online/Cloud Backup. There are a growing number of companies who provide a easy to setup backup solution that is “in the cloud.” You install their software and pay an annual fee and in the background you’re data gets sent to a server on the internet where the company takes ownership for ensuring the safety of your files. This is good peace of mind and very easy to setup as long as your willing to pay a nominal annual charge. It also has the advantage over local backups of disasters like theft or fire where you could potentially not only lose your laptop but your backup too. The disadvantage is as fast as the internet is it’s still much slower than a direct connection and that means that the initial backup takes a long time to get fully backed up (after that incremental changes are much faster) and really requires that you leave your computer on and on the network at night (at least sometimes). For people who choose to use a local backup option it is often advisable to use cloud backups as an extra precaution. Local for convenient, fast backup. Cloud for a second line of defence and a precaution against physical disasters like theft and fire. Top options in this space are Carbonite and Mozy.
- Cloud Synchronisation. This an interesting option because it can adequately provide backup to some of your important data for free (all of it at a price). Services like Microsoft’s LiveMesh and Dropbox are primarily meant to synchronize data across computers … either to make sure all your computers are in sync or that friends or co-workers can collaborate with documents. These services also offer synchronisation with the cloud which means that even if you synchronize with no other computers you can still get your data back from the cloud if disaster strikes.
Backup is surprisingly complex but the two key things that are key are:
- Choose a strategy and get started or be ready to suffer the losses that will eventually come
- Choose a solution that is easy to follow so that you actually follow the backup plan or else you’ll find yourself feeling secure up until you actually lose the data.
The good news is the options available today are pretty easy and getting easier but it’s still up to you to choose a strategy and get started living a more secure digital life.